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The Black Cat 

Edgar Allan Poe 



The Electronic Books Foundation 



For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I 
neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case 
where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not — and very 
surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my 
soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, 
and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their 
consequences, these events have terrified — have tortured — have destroyed 
me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little 
but Horror — to many they will seem less terrible than barroques. Hereafter, 
perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the 
common- pi ace — some i ntel I ect more cal m, more I ogi cal , and far I ess exci tabl e 
than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, 
nothi ng more than an ordi nary succession of very natural causes and effects. 

From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my 
disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me 
the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged 
by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my ti me, 
and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity 
of character grew with my growth, and, in my manhood, I derived from it one 
of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection 
for a faithful and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining 
the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is 
something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes 
directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry 
friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man. 

I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not 
uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she lost 
no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We had birds, 
gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat. 

This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and 
sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, 
who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent 
allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches 
in disguise. Not that she was ever serious upon this point — and I mention the 
matter at all for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be 
remembered. 

Pluto — this was the cat's name — was my favorite pet and playmate. I 
alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was 



even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the 
streets. 

Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my 
general temperament and character — through the instrumentality of the 
Fiend Intemperance — had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical 
alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more 
regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate 
language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence. My pets, 
of course, were made to feel thechangein my disposition. I not only neglected, 
but ill-used them. For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to 
restrain me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the 
rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through affection, 
they came i n my way. But my di sease grew upon me — for what di sease i s I i ke 
Alcohol! — and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and 
consequently somewhat peevish — even Pluto began to experience the effects 
of my ill temper. 

One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about 
town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his 
fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. 
The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. 
My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more 
than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I 
took from my waistcoat- pocket a pen- knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast 
by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I 
burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity. 

When reason returned with the morning — when I had slept off the fumes 
of the night's debauch — I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of 
remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble 
and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into 
excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed. 

In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye 
presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared to 
suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, 
fled i n extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my old heart left, as to 
be at first grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had 
once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, 
as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of Perverseness. Of this 
spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, 



than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human 
heart — one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give 
direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found 
himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he 
knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our 
best j udgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it 
to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It 
was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself — to offer violence to its 
own nature — to do wrong for the wrong's sake only — that urged me to 
continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the 
unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its 
neck and hung it to the I i mb of a tree; — hung it with the tears streami ng from 
my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; — hung it because I knew 
that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; — 
hung ihbecausel knew that in so doing I was committing a sin —a deadly sin 
that would sojeopardize my immortal soul as to place it — if such a thing were 
possible — even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful 
and Most Terrible God. 

On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was aroused 
from sleep by the cry of fi re. The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole 
house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and 
myself, made our escape from the conflagration. The destruction was 
complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself 
thenceforward to despair. 

I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and 
effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detai I i ng a chai n of facts 
— and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect. On the day succeeding 
the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This 
exception was found in a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about 
the middle of the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The 
plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the action of the fire — a fact 
which I attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a dense 
crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a particular 
portion of it with very minute and eager attention. The words "strange!" 
"singular!" and other similar expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached 
and saw, as if graven injbas relief upon the white surface, the figure of a 
giganticcat. The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. 
There was a rope about the ani mal 's neck. 



When I first beheld this apparition —for I could scarcely regard it as less — 
my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length reflection came to my 
aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden adjacent to the house. 
Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by the crowd 
— by some one of whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and 
thrown, through an open window, into my chamber. This had probably been 
done with the view of arousing me from sleep. The falling of other walls had 
compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread 
plaster; the I i me of which, with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, 
had then accomplished the portraiture as I saw it. 

Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my 
conscience, for the startling fact just detailed, it did not the less fail to make a 
deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid myself of the 
phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came back into my spirit a 
half- sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse. I went so far as to regret 
the loss of the animal, and to look about me, among the vile haunts which I 
now habitually frequented, for another pet of the same species, and of 
somewhat similar appearance, with which to supply its place. 

One night as I sat, half stupified, in a den of more than infamy, my 
attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of 
one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which constituted the chief 
furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this 
hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact 
that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon. I approached it, and 
touched it with my hand. It was a black cat — a very large one — fully as large 
as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a 
white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although 
indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast. 

Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed 
against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the 
very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it of the 
landlord; but this person made no claim to it — knew nothing of it — had 
never seen it before. 

I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal 
evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so; occasionally 
stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached the house it 
domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my 
wife. 



For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This was 
j ust the reverse of what I had anti ci pated; but — I know not how or why it was 
— its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and annoyed. By slow 
degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose into the bitterness of 
hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance 
of my former deed of cruelty, preventing me from physically abusing it. I did 
not, for some weeks, strike, or otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually — 
very gradually — I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee 
silently from its odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence. 

What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on the 
morning after I brought it home, that, like Pluto, it also had been deprived of 
one of its eyes. This circumstance, however, only endeared it to my wife, who, 
as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree, that humanity of feeling 
which had once been my distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my 
simplest and purest pleasures. 

With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed to 
increase. Itfollowed my footsteps with a pertinacity which it would be difficult 
to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my 
chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I 
arose to walk it would get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, 
fastening its long and sharp claws in my dress, clamber, in this manner, to my 
breast. At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet 
withheld from so doing, partly by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly — 
let me confess it at once — by absol ute dread of the beast. 

This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil — and yet I should be at 
a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to own — yes, even in 
this felon's eel I, I am almost ashamed to own —that the terror and horror with 
which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one of the merest 
chimaa'as it would be possible to conceive. My wife had called my attention, 
more than once, to the character of the mark of white hair, of which I have 
spoken, and which constituted the sole visible difference between the strange 
beast and the one I had destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, 
although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees — 
[page 287:] degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for a long time my 
Reason struggled to reject as fanciful — it had, at length, assumed a rigorous 
distinctness of outline. It was now the representation of an object that I 
shudder to name — and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would 
have rid myself of the monster had I dared — it was now, I say, the i mage of a 



hideous — of a ghastly thing — of the Gallows! — oh, mournful and terrible 
engi ne of H orror and of Cri me — of Agony and of Death! 

And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere 
H umanity. And a brute beast — whose fel low I had contemptuously destroyed 
—a brute beast to work out for me — for me a man, fashi oned i n the i mage of 
the High God —so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither by day nor by night 
knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During the former the creature left me 
no moment alone; and, in the latter, I started, hourly, from dreams of 
unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast 
weight — an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off — 
i ncumbent eternal ly upon my heart! 

Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the 
good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates — the 
darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual temper 
increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, 
frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly 
abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the 
most patient of sufferers. 

One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar 
of the old building which our poverty compel led us to in habit. The cat foil owed 
me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me headlong, exasperated me 
to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my wrath, the childish dread 
which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a blow at the animal which, of 
course, would have proved instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But 
this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded, by the interference, 
into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and 
buried the axe in her brain. She fel I dead upon the spot, without a groan. 

This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and - 
[page 288:] with entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I 
knew that I could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, 
without the risk of bei ng observed by the neighbors. M any projects entered my 
mind. At one period I thought of cutting the corpse into minute fragments, 
and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig a grave for it in the 
floor of the eel lar. Agai n, I del i berated about casti ng it i n the wel I in the yard — 
about packing it in a box, as if merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and 
so getting a porter to take it from the house. Finally I hit upon what I 
considered a far better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall it 



up in the cellar — as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled 
up their victims. 

For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were 
loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout with a rough 
plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented from 
hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection, caused by a false 
chimney, or fireplace, that had been filled up, and made to resemble the rest of 
the cellar. I made no doubt that I could readily displace the bricks at this 
point, insert the corpse, and wall the whole up as before, so that no eye could 
detect any thi ng suspi ci ous. 

And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily 
dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the body against the 
inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little trouble, I re-laid the 
whole structure as it originally stood. Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, 
with every possible precaution, I prepared a plaster which could not be 
distinguished from the old, and with this I very carefully went over the new 
brick- work. When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did 
not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on 
the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around triumphantly, 
and said to myself — "Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain." 

My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so much 
wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to death. Had I 
been able to meet with it, at the moment, there could have been no doubt of its 
fate; but it appeared that the crafty ani mal had been alarmed at the violence of 
my previous anger, and forebore to present itself in my present mood. It is 
impossible to describe, or to imagine, the deep, the blissful sense of relief 
which the absence of the detested creature occasioned i n my bosom. 1 1 did not 
make its appearance during the night — and thus for one night at least, since 
its introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even 
with the burden of murder upon my soul ! 

The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not. 
Once again I breathed as a freeman. The monster, in terror, had fled the 
premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme! The 
guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries had been 
made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had been instituted 
— but of course nothing was to be discovered. I looked upon my future felicity 
as secured. 



Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came, very 
unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded again to make rigorous 
investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability of my 
place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. The officers bade me 
accompany them in their search. They left no nook or corner unexplored. At 
length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into the cellar. I quivered 
not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in 
innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my 
bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied and 
prepared to depart. The glee at my heart was too strong to be restrained. I 
burned to say if but one word, by way of triumph, and to render doubly sure 
their assurance of my guiltlessness. 

"Gentlemen," I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, "I delight to 
have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little more courtesy. 
By the bye, gentlemen, this — this is a very well constructed house." [I n the 
rabid desire to say something easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all.] — "I 
may say an excellently well constructed house. These walls — are you going, 
gentlemen? — these walls are solidly put together;" and here, through the 
mere phrenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily, with a cane which I held in my 
hand, upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse 
of the wife of my bosom. 

But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch- Fiend! No 
sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence, than I was 
answered by a voice from within the tomb! — by a cry, at first muffled and 
broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, 
loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman — a howl — a 
wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen 
only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the dammed in thei r agony and 
of the demons that exult i n the damnation. 

Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to the 
opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs remained motionless, 
through extremity of terror and of awe. I n the next, a dozen stout arms were 
toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and 
clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, 
with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose 
craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned 
me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb! 



Credits 

A work by Edgar Allan Poe( 1809- 1849). 

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